So you've made the decision to travel to Cambodia - congratulations! I hope you've already booked your flights, because this is a country you do not want to miss. Below are my best recommendations for what to pack & wear in Cambodia, based on my own trial and error.
What to Wear In Cambodia
Despite the suffocating heat and humidity of the country, Cambodians dress pretty conservatively. We were told this is mostly an effort to preserve their skin from the sun, but nonetheless, you will not see native Cambodians wearing shorts, small skirts, or tank tops.
Because the tourism industry is still taking off here, it can often feel a bit awkward to be the only person walking around in shorts and a tank top. What’s more, you will not be allowed in various sacred spaces, like the Angkor Wat temples and the Royal Palace if your shoulders and knees are not covered. Just something to keep in mind.
Weather In Cambodia
Hot & humid. All year. There is a rainy season from May to August, then a “cold season” from August to October (ish), but at least six months out of the year, you can expect 95 degree heat at 90% humidity.
Although Phnom Penh is the country’s capital, and therefore home to slightly more diversity than the rest of the country, you’ll probably feel most comfortable walking around in a longer dress. Shorts are ok, but I would pair them with a loose t-shirt.
Keep in mind that you’ll likely be exploring Cambodia’s tragic history while in Phnom Penh, so make sure you’re wearing something that feels respectful for that type of activity.
For the Royal Palace, I would recommend a capped sleeve midi-dress that hits below the knees.
Siem Reap definitely sees the most tourism, so you’ll probably feel the least out of place here wearing your shorts and tank tops. However, it’s also home to the country’s most sacred temples and therefore considered disrespectful to flaunt bare shoulders and knees. There are no fashion police that will stop you from wearing spaghetti straps, it just depends on your level of comfort.
For 8-hour days exploring Angkor Wat in the heat, you’re going to want:
Linen capri pants that cover the knee (but are open at the bottom to let the air flow in)
A loose cotton swoop-neck t-shirt that covers the shoulders (but allows air flow to the neck and back)
Comfortable walking shoes, either Teva-like sandals or tennis shoes
Koh Rong Islands
The islands are, as you would expect, way more lax on dress code. You’ll be spending most of your time in your bathing suit and maybe a pair of shorts or a cover up. Make sure to bring at least two bathing suits, as you’ll want to switch daily.
Cambodia Packing List
First things first, I would recommend a 40L backpack to carry everything in. Roads aren't amazing in Cambodia, so you'll be pretty annoyed if you have to drag a suitcase around the country.
Also, I would highly recommend packing cubes. I tried them for the first time in Cambodia, and they completely change the backpacking game. Think of them like drawers in your backpack, in which you can neatly organize categories of items like toiletries, undergarments, active wear, and casual wear and easily pull them out whenever you want.
Ok, let's get into the nitty gritty. Here's what you need to pack, broken into categories:
Your Traveling Pharmacy
Bug spray & wipes
Aftersun or aloe vera gel
Mini first aid kit
Tissues (for public restrooms)
Antibiotics (preventative for UTIs)
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Shampoo & conditioner
Face & body lotion
Light makeup optional, though I didn't use any
Extremely Breathable Clothes
2 day dresses & 1 nicer night dress
1 cover up
2 t-shirts (for sacred spaces)
2 cute tank tops
2 active tank tops
1 cotton or linen button down shirt
2 denim or cloth shorts
1 pair active shorts
1 pair flowy linen pants
1 pair yoga pants (for air travel)
Light rain jacket
2 sports bras
Socks (# of days + 2)
Phone & Kindle chargers
Universal adapter (!!!)
The Can-Not-Forget Stuff
Copy of passport & ID
Passport photos for visa
Credit & debit card
Cash in USD
Plastic zip lock bags
Travel book & pen
Day bag (crossbody or backpack)
Here are a few of the scarce resources I found on the web when looking for packing advice prior to my trip:
For a general, comprehensive list: Packing List For Cambodia
For the Cambodian travel essentials: 11 Things You Must Pack If You're Visiting Cambodia
For city-specific info: What to Wear in Phnom Pehn, Siem Reap, & Sihanoukville
About buying clothes in Cambodia: We read that you can get a whole wardrobe at the markets in Cambodia for $20, sweat in them to your heart’s content & then donate them back to the community to be recycled when you leave.
So, we decided to buy some shirts & flowy pants once we got there.
However, I found it very unpleasant to spend any amount of time in the markets trying to find decent clothes and bartering for every single piece.
Thus, I would recommend you purchase all of your clothes beforehand (other than elephant pants!), so you're not left scrambling once you arrive.
My hope is that with this list, you’ll travel to Cambodia with the perfect items in your backpack. No extra weight from unused junk and no uh-oh moments when you get a terrible sunburn in the middle of the island with no convenience stores around to purchase aloe vera from (see above photo). Have a fabulous trip!
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